Now that the Cubs have won a World Series, the Chicago sports universe can just close down for good, right? Um, if only it were that simple. Fans are always wondering what, or who, is next. These 17 athletes give Chicago plenty to look forward to in 2017 besides what could be a Cubs dynasty. What, too soon?
Albert Almora Jr., Cubs
With Dexter Fowler gone, the Cubs are going to get a much longer look at what they have in Almora, the team’s center fielder of the future. In 47 regular-season games, Almora showed flashes of his potential, hitting .277 with three home runs and nine doubles, and he’ll forever be remembered for scoring in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series. The Cubs will give the 22-year-old a longer look this season. Look for him to prove them right for doing so while continuing to become even more of a fan favorite on the North Side.
Tim Anderson, White Sox
He acquitted himself quite well after taking over as the team's starting shortstop following the failed Jimmy Rollins experiment in 2016, and there's no reason to think Anderson will relinquish that spot anytime soon. It would be nice if the 23-year-old ends up being as prolific a run producer as, say, Addison Russell across town. But for now, hitting in the ballpark of his 2016 average (.283) while fielding his position effectively and posing a stolen base threat will be more than satisfying for Sox fans.
Andrei Arlovski, MMA
His career has shown a resurgence of late despite three losses in 2016. Lately, the UFC's heavyweight division has been wide open with no consistent contender set to challenge champion Stipe Miocic. The 37-year-old Chicago resident has shown that the brutal knockouts he has suffered in the past haven't affected him after returning to the UFC in 2014.
Imani Boyette, Sky
The Sky have struggled to find a formidable post presence since the franchise parted ways with All-Star Sylvia Fowles. They hope they have found the solution in the 6-foot-7 Boyette. The 22-year-old sprinkled in a couple of double-doubles during a regular season in which she played in 31 of the team’s 34 games, starting 16. Foul trouble has been her Achilles’ heel, though her potential surfaced in the Sky’s five playoff games, most notably in the final two matchups in the Los Angeles series: 13 points and 11 rebounds, followed by 15 points and 10 rebounds. If she can take some of the heat off all-world guard/forward Elena Delle Donne down low, teams won’t be able to push the Sky around.
Willson Contreras, Cubs
Grandpa Rossy’s gone, Miguel Montero is on the downside of his career and Kyle Schwarber is better suited for the outfield. Translation: Contreras isn’t just the catcher of the future, he’s the catcher of the present as well. As one of the pleasant surprises of the 2016 campaign, he will be key to the Cubs’ hopes of repeating as world champs. The 24-year-old socked 12 home runs in 76 regular-season games as a rookie and showed enough to earn manager Joe Maddon’s trust to the point where he played in every single one of the Cubs’ postseason games. Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo may get all the headlines, but look for Contreras to have the biggest breakout season out of any Chicago baseball player in 2017.
Carl Edwards Jr., Cubs
The closer of the future is going to play an even more key role in the 2017 Cubs bullpen. As well he should. During the regular season last year, Edwards posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 4 to 1 and a WHIP of .806. The 25-year-old is not being counted on to be the closer just yet—Wade Davis will likely fill that role after being acquired from Kansas City for Jorge Soler—but the Cubs will look to Edwards to get through many a stressful inning in 2017. He’s ready, he’s willing and he should be more than able.
Gustav Forsling, Blackhawks
The organization loves the 20-year-old defenseman's passing ability. For a team that prides itself on puck possession and transitioning from its own end with speed, Forsling's skills are key. He already had a goal and three assists as of Thursday afternoon, and expect the latter number to climb steadily. He needs to cut down on the giveaways, especially in the defensive zone. But did we mention he's only 20? For a team looking for its next wave of core players, he could be the latest Swedish defenseman (following in the skate-steps of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya) to help the Hawks win a Stanley Cup.
Eddie Goldman, Bears
Looking beyond the Bears' abysmal record (we know, it's really difficult), there are a few building blocks to be excited about, especially on defense. Although Goldman was caught in the monsoon of injuries that befell the team, when the 22-year-old lineman was healthy, he had the makings of a disruptive force. The 2 1/2 sacks are a nice bonus, though his value will be measured in making the quarterback's life miserable in general, as well as making life easier for his teammates.
Vinnie Hinostroza, Blackhawks
The Blackhawks always have a need for speed, and that's the 22-year-old Chicago native's best asset. His shiftiness and stick handling in tight situations can't be discounted, either. Not to set the bar ridiculously high, but we see what those qualities have done for Patrick Kane. If Hinostroza is even one-third the player Kane is, they've got another center (besides Jonathan Toews and Artem Anisimov) who will give opponents fits. Look for him to punch in 15 goals before the 2016-17 season is over.
Mike Montgomery, Cubs
The man who got the final out of the Cubs’ first World Series championship in 108 years is poised to have a breakout campaign in 2017. With Jason Hammel gone, Montgomery will enter Spring Training as the favorite to win the fifth starter role. The 27-year-old was solid in the regular season and clutch in the World Series. He’s not going to be the second coming of Kyle Hendricks, but he’ll definitely establish himself as a force in the Cubs' rotation.
Alyssa Naeher, Red Stars
This might be cheating slightly considering the 28-year-old is already one of the best goalkeepers in the NWSL. As a member of the Red Stars in 2016, she set a then-league record with a 485-minute shutout streak and was a finalist for goalkeeper of the year. So why is she on the verge of a breakout? Because she could be the U.S. women's national team's new No. 1 goalkeeper now that Hope Solo looks to be on the outs for good. And those are huge shoes to fill given the Americans' status as a world power.
CM Punk, MMA
Yes, CM Punk is still an MMA fighter, and he doesn’t care if you complain about it. The 38-year-old Chicago native's first bout didn’t go as planned, yet he is still planning to fight in 2017. He has talked to UFC president Dana White and even if he isn’t offered a fight in the UFC, he will take one in a different organization. He is fully focused on his new career and has shown he is in it for the long haul.
Carlos Rodon, White Sox
With Chris Sale now a member of the Boston Red Sox, the White Sox need another arm they can rely on in the starting rotation to complement Jose Quintana. Rodon has the arsenal of pitches to be that guy. Although the 24-year-old took steps backward in 2016 in terms of his ERA (4.04) and the home runs he allowed (a concerning 23), he increased his strikeout total from 139 to 168 and dropped his walk total from 71 to 54. No doubt Sox Nation won't be satisfied until he drops his ERA below 3.33 or so.
Louis Taylor, MMA
The 37-year-old Chicago native has shown he is ready for the UFC not if but when the organization calls him. Taylor has won his last six fights and also potted the fastest submission in the World Series of Fighting (29 seconds). He had two chances to reach the UFC before signing with the WSOF, but now he is poised to make the move in 2017.
Denzel Valentine, Bulls
If the Bulls played their cards right, Valentine will morph into a younger version of Jimmy Butler. The 23-year-old has the body type, skill set and unselfishness that fits in with the team's offensive style, so it's only a matter of time before he becomes an unsung-yet-crucial component. Need a rebound? He can grab it. Need a key bucket? He got tons of them while at Michigan State. Need someone who can distribute the ball? No sweat. Expect him to be most effective when Dwyane Wade needs a rest day.
Brandon Vincent, Fire
It's fair to say the Fire have struggled mightily in recent years, having finished with the fewest points in Major League Soccer the past two seasons. The team's turnaround efforts will need rising stars like Vincent. The 22-year-old defender, who has trained with the U.S. national team (he played in the team's friendly against Canada on Feb. 5), was selected for the MLS All-Star Game and tallied three assists with the Fire in 2016. If the team can acquire a few more like him, they'll be back in the playoffs in no time.
Kevin White, Bears
We're not giving up on the receiver just yet. The bright side of the 24-year-old having been injured for most of the past two seasons is he's been spared some wear and tear. Besides, whomever the Bears quarterback is next season will need a reliable target, so he basically has no choice but to knock everyone's socks off. Especially if Alshon Jeffery ends up elsewhere, which is a strong possibility.
BTW, check back in December to see how well we did. We of course would like to assume we'll go 17-for-17, but sports have a way of humbling people.
Chris Sosa is RedEye's sports editor. @redeyesportschi
Ted Gruber and Matt Lindner are RedEye contributors.